Donald Trump
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Nancy has been on a justifiable warpath against President’s Trump’s fitness for office today, so it’s tempting to find something wholly unrelated to write about. Instead, I am just going to take a different angle on what is still basically the same topic. I am going to talk about risk and damage.

So far, the damage done by Trump’s presidency has had a lot of intangible characteristics. It’s hard to quantify how our loss on international prestige negatively impacts our nation. Our beleaguered diplomatic corp might struggle to explain all the ways their jobs have become more difficult, even nightmarish at times.  Our military commanders know that our working relationships with allies are under newfound stress, but maybe they can’t easily attribute any particular problem to a definite cause.  How do we measure the downside of all the stress people feel because they’re worried about their access to health care or the possibility that the government might break a promise and deport a member of their family?  What does it feel like to be a part of a vulnerable community that the president attacks as criminal in nature or as insufficiently patriotic?  What kind of damage does it do to the character of our kids to have a president who lies, cheats, bullies, and defrauds people, and is seemingly rewarded for it?  What happens to the character of people who support the president for the things on which they agree when this causes them to excuse things about him they would never overlook in their friends or children?

This isn’t to say that the president’s policies haven’t yet done any real, tangible, measurable harm. But it’s true that his worst policy proposals have mostly been checked or watered down.  Unfortunately, we’re reaching a new point in the life of this administration where the destruction is going to be more noticeable and easier to put on a straightforward cause/effect chart.

We can begin with the executive order he issued today which will weaken the Affordable Care Act by making its exchanges sicker and more expensive. Unlike the president’s prior move on the Paris climate agreement and his coming one on the Iran nuclear deal, the health care executive order is worse than a way for the president to save face without doing much immediate harm. It has the potential to be “a devastating blow.”

Something similar is happening with the NAFTA trade agreement. You may agree with Trump that NAFTA was the worst trade agreement ever crafted, but that doesn’t mean that we can simply withdraw from it without creating massive chaos. Based on the administration’s negotiating posture, the aim seems to be to blame Canada and Mexico for not making unreasonable concessions. That will be followed by withdrawal from the treaty in the messiest and must disruptive way imaginable.

As previously mentioned, the current strategy on Iran’s nuclear program is designed to give Trump a way to save face without actually blowing up the agreement. It remains to be seen, however, if that strategy will hold.

It looks like Trump is preparing to leave Puerto Rico twisting in the wind, as he’s now threatening to pull back from relief efforts prematurely and blame the island’s preexisting fiscal problems. There will be nothing theoretical about the resulting death and suffering.

And, of course, the biggest thing hanging out there is North Korea. There’s a reason that there are stories emerging about Trump’s national security team’s plans to tackle him if he tries to initiate the nuclear launch codes. There’s a reason that, today, the New York Times editorial board is advocating “legislation that would bar the president from launching a first nuclear strike without a declaration of war by Congress” and claiming implausibly that this “wouldn’t take away the president’s ability to defend the country.”

Nothing does more lasting harm than nuclear fallout. And people in a position to know are sending the strongest signals that we ought to panic.

On these issues, and probably more, we’re moving from a period of inchoate and nebulous harm to a period of real, solid, tangible catastrophe.

We cannot put off a real reckoning much longer, and the idea that the adults in the White House can continue to protect us from the natural consequences of having a lunatic president is already being exposed as a fantasy.

Something needs to be done, starting immediately, to save the nation and the world from what will otherwise soon come our way.

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at